At this very moment, hundreds if not thousands of midwesterners are bidding tearful and fond farewells to family and friends -- before loading up their vehicles and gleefully high-fiving one another upon successful completion of yet another great escape. I am of course referring to the annual Winter Texan migration that is on its way to our beautiful shores.
SPI's Winter Texan population has all too often been the butt of some rather unkind jokes (anyone who has not heard the one about the Winter Texan who arrived with a pair of overalls and a $100 bill and spent two months here without changing either, raise your hand. Uh-huh, just as I thought...) I myself have on occasion been guilty of repeating such tired cliches, and I am not feeling too good about that. As a way of doing penance, this week I would like to profile some Winter Texans that I happen to know pretty well.
Don and Ginny Wierenga are a couple of retired educators who, like many other Winter Texans, maintain their primary residence in the Midwest -- specifically, Saugatuck, MI. After a few winters in rental units, they finally broke down and purchased a couple of condos at Saida some five years ago. One thing that distinguishes the Wierengas from other Winter Texans is the fact that they happen to be my parental units. (Long standing joke: I run away from home 2000 miles and what do they do? They follow me!) While two sisters and four nephews back in Michigan exert a powerful tractor beam, Don and Ginny's winters belong to me.
"Dad Feets" still enjoys the occassional round of golf, but he really loves burning up the tennis court. He found his writing voice relatively late in life and has contributed regularly to the op-ed pages of several local publications. He uses stones, shells and driftwood found on his regular beach walks to create clever little sculptures he calls "bird castles." He organizes sand castle building projects with other Saida residents, gets more use out of my bicycle than I do, and maintains a genealogical web-site at www.wierenga.com.
"Mom Feets" also plays tennis, works out regularly and was in fact recently mistaken for my sister (not sure how I feel about that one.) After spending the largest part of the year actively involved in the raising of her grandsons, she enjoys spending the winter months relaxing by the pool, watching movies and contributing to the local economy by paying regular visits to her favorite area shops. She is a voracious reader and keeps in touch with the Michigan branch of the family via her laptop and cell phone. She is a generous tipper.
While Don and Ginny truly enjoy the company of the other Winter Texans at Saida, they are just as comfortable having a beer or two with me and my friends over at the Pub. And while many other Winter Texans are driven back north before the snow melts by the arrival of spring breakers, the Wierengas prefer to hang here all the way to April, enjoying the antics from their balcony vantage point in the throbbing heart of spring break madness -- they have even been known to share their dinner with 'breaker neighbors who goofed and spent all their money on beer. Age has not closed their minds or their hearts, and I count myself fortunate indeed to be their daughter.
Fact is, I owe my personal discovery of this little bit of Texas and the wonderful years I have enjoyed here to yet another pair of Winter Texans. Grandma Bea and Grandpa Clifford spent their golden years traveling this continent in an Airstream, finally landing (in a seasonal sort of way) at Pine-To-Palm Park in Weslaco in the mid-'70's. They would return to Michigan in the summer with exotic tales of a lush valley that winter never found, and the still-pristine tropical island laying just off its shores. A typical teenager, I listened with half an ear, never dreaming that the day was not too far off when I would follow them down to Texas to take my first stab at adulthood as a high school English teacher in Weslaco....